DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have struck a deal to support each other should one candidate fail to draw the minimum support needed to compete in Monday night's Iowa caucuses, Edwards campaign sources said.
The decision could give Edwards, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, a boost in the convoluted caucuses, the first major Democratic contest of the election year. An Iowa poll published over the weekend shows Edwards is in a tight race with the four front-runners. The same poll has Kucinich, an Ohio congressman, drawing the support of just 3 percent of likely caucus-goers.
"Both of us believe in a lot of the same things, and we like each other very much," Edwards said. "But both of us also recognize at the end of the day, caucus-goers will have to make their own decisions about this."
In the first round of Iowa's Democratic precinct caucuses, starting Monday at 6:30 p.m. CT, voters divide into groups to register their support for a particular candidate. A candidate's group must have at least 15 percent of the people in attendance for the candidate to be considered "viable." Supporters of candidates who are not considered viable must join another group.
Edwards and Kucinich have agreed that in any Iowa precinct where either candidate fails to garner the minimum needed to survive the first round, their supporters are urged to line up for the other candidate, Kucinich spokesman David Swanson said.
"They both have a positive approach, and they both have an optimistic vision," Swanson said. "Where we need 15 percent, we've got 9 and he's got 6, they'll come to us, and where he's got 9 and we've got 6, we'll go to him."
The two candidates reached the arrangement even though Kucinich and Edwards differ on the war in Iraq, a major issue in the Democratic contests. Edwards voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq, while Kucinich opposed it.
Edwards and Kucinich have become friends during the campaign, sources in both campaigns said.
The deal was finalized Sunday, and Edwards and Kucinich spoke to each other about the arrangement several days ago, Edwards campaign sources said.
But a spokeswoman for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, one of Edwards' leading rivals in the Iowa contest, said the pact is a sign of weakness on Edwards' part.
"We are planning on being viable in all the precincts. We have no strategy to coordinate with another campaign," said Sarah Leonard, communications director for the Dean campaign in Iowa.
"It just says something about Senator Edwards' organization that he's needing to rely on Congressman Kucinich's support in order to be viable in some precincts."
And Stephanie Cutter, Sen. John Kerry's press secretary, said the Massachusetts senator "has broad support across the state."
"If we aren't viable, we will reach out to all campaigns," Cutter said. "Because this is not about cutting secret deals, this is about beating George Bush."
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.
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